Getting kids excited about pretty much anything means engaging them in the process of planning and visualizing the experience. And kids are “concrete” which means that it works best if you engage their senses in the here and now. Kids also are pretty much at the whims of their parents so giving them some power over what happens will help a lot. And actually engaging them in decision making may improve your trip. When my daughter was 12 years old we went to France. She asked if we had a budget for the trip. That wasn’t exactly how we rolled in those days but that suggestions was indeed a wise one!
Here are some suggestions that will not only help your children get excited but will provide real learning and bonding experiences:
- At the very start of planning the trip, sit down with your family and talk about it. Let them know why you chose this or these destination(s) and what you are excited about. Be honest and authentic in this discussion.
- Get paper maps of the place(s) you are going and help your child mark your journey.
- Use the internet and other resources to download pictures of your destination(s) and place some of those photos on the map as a kind of collage of the trip
- Use your internet or high quality travel books (Dorling Kindersley eyewitness books are filled with great photos) to learn about places and come up with words that describe the location(s). Put those words on the map with the photos
- Use your travel books and high quality travel sites like “Lonely Planet” to search together for things to do where you will be going. Discuss activity options as a family and decide together on which ones you will choose.
- As you work together as a family to plan your visit, consider taking my daughter’s advice and put together a budget for the trip. Estimate the cost of travel (gas, airplane tickets, etc), food, recreation, etc. Involve your children in creating this budget so they can see that priorities have to be made and include them in weighing those priorities. Include them in as many decisions as you can but be clear in advance about the decisions that parents will make.
- If you know anyone who comes from your destination(s) or who visited there, together with your child(ren) brainstorm a list of questions to ask that person and invite them over or visit them to conduct an interview about the place(s) you plan to visit.
- Research books about the location(s) and make a trip to the library. Novels will be more fun than travel books. Read the books together as a family. You might include not only books about your destination(s) but also find out what are the most popular books of those regions and read those as well. And try to understand why those books are popular in those places during your visit.
- Get some recipes from the area(s) and as a family try cooking the food. Compare it to the real things when you get there. Be willing to laugh at yourselves as you try your hand at unfamiliar culinary efforts!
- Remember to avoid striving for perfection. While planning ahead is good, avoid too much controlling behavior. As the trip unfolds, stay in touch with your kids preferences and ideas. When things don’t go quite as expected, include them in the process of handling that. If they express unhappy feelings such as disappointment, frustration or boredom, you can use that opportunity to coach problem solving – acknowledge their emotions without judgement, be interested in their version of the problem, invite them to brainstorm solutions and to consider what might be the outcomes of each of their ideas and invite them to choose a solution. You don’t have to keep everyone happy every minute of the trip and it helps to accept all of your kids responses to it without having to fix their feelings.
Research tells us that when it comes to spending money, purchasing experiences is far more satisfying in the long run than buying things. While our family didn’t travel a lot, it is precisely getting out of the house and heading out into the world together that strengthened our connections, taught us the most and created the memories about which we laugh and talk the most. Now that the kids are grown with their own kids, I love watching our adult children pass down their legacy of adventure and discovery as a family.